An Outpouring of Support for the UndocuBus in New Orleans
The first thing I want to report on the UndocuBus sojourn with us is the outpouring of love and support for the riders so far! We received so much food to help nurture and sustain the UndocuBus riders that we may have surplus to give away to local homeless shelters at the end of the week! Members and friends of First UU Church, North Shore UU Church, and Community Church UU of the Greater New Orleans Unitarian Universalist cluster, as well as the staff of the Center for Ethical Living (the non-profit organization formed by the churches in the wake of Hurricane Katrina), stepped forward in typical New Orleans style to make sure that the brave UndocuBus riders were never hungry during their visit to the Crescent City. Local partners, such as the Community Kitchen and the New Orleans Food Co-Op also joined in the effort to keep the riders fed and happy.
Other volunteers gave the riders a taste of the “Race, Class & Recovery” tour of post-Katrina New Orleans that is given to all who stay at the Center for Ethical Living and still others volunteered to help keep the Center clean and organized during their stay.
Wednesday night at First UU Church, there was a rally and forum in support of the brave UndocuBus riders. In attendance were members and friends of the three Greater New Orleans UU churches and their two ministers (myself and Rev. Jim Vanderweele) as well as members and organizers from the NOLA Worker Center for Racial Justice, the Congreso del Jornaleros, STAND for Justice, Interfaith Worker Justice, representatives from both the Tulane and Loyola University Law Clinics, and local social and racial justice activists.
Well over a hundred people packed into the steamy sanctuary (our elderly A/C system couldn’t cope with the rain and humidity outside and the damp bodies inside). The sanctuary was decorated with colorful banners and posters, and the atmosphere was festive.
After a welcome from Ms. Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer for Congreso, there were welcomes from both UU ministers. Then, the “No Papers No Fear” bus riders filed into the front of the sanctuary, to a standing ovation by the gathered crowd. The riders received a typical New Orleans welcome, as Congreso members greeted each one and draped them with Mardi Gras beads. What further proof could there be that the Latino reconstruction workers are now true New Orleanians?
Moving testimony on “Why I Ride” came from the riders, followed by equally emotional stories from Congreso members of their treatment at the hands of local police and sheriffs. African-American members of STAND came forward and proclaimed their solidarity with their Latino brothers and sisters. “Your struggle is our struggle,” said one, to wild applause.
I was then called to the pulpit, where, translated by Ms. Gonzalez, I spoke of the links between the “No Papers No Fear” ride and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, in which First Church had played a significant role. She decried wage theft and the ICE practice of splitting up families by deportation and “disappearances.” I also pledged that the UUs of New Orleans will be good allies in the struggle.
The evening ended on a high note with all participants sharing a delicious dinner and getting to know each other.
Later in the week, there was a Women’s Luncheon on with members from our currently all-female city council to enlist their support in getting the sheriff to stop ICE holds as well as a rally outside the court hearing for the “Southern 32,” a group of laborers who were hired to clean up after Hurricane Ike, denied safety gear for working in toxic sludge, and then not paid the wages they were owed. When they organized a strike, the employer called the police, who then turned them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).